GREECE JUNE 2017
I began planning my Greek odyssey the same way I do all my trips, with a healthy dose of research (that and a confirmed reservation to a yoga retreat)! Internet blogs and websites, friends who’ve been and travel guides are my go-tos. Here’s a basic strategy for planning.
When you have a lot of moving parts in your itinerary it helps to employ some smart tools like these to sort out the details and to write everything down in chronological outline form.
Rule #1 – Start with what you know, which should include your budget.
I knew my travel companion and I had to be on the island of Amorgos for a yoga retreat by June 21. You can only arrive in Amorgos in the eastern Cyclades by ferry. I also knew our international flights would be in and out of Athens, so I looked at the ferry schedules from Athens. Long ride and very, very early morning arrival at the port in Athens. Bad. You can, I found, take a shorter ferry ride to Amorgos from one of the other islands in the Cyclades. And you can fly cheaply and easily to some of those islands. Good.
Rule #2 – How much time do you have?
As busy working moms, my friend and I figured we could be away from our families for about 10 days. Following Rule #1 we knew we were going to be Amorgos for 5 nights beginning June 21. So, given the parameters for our international airfare (we were flying from different US cities on different airlines and meeting in Athens) we coordinated that first.
Next, we parsed out the remaining days. Arrive Athens, two nights. Fly to Santorini (to avoid super long ferry ride from Athens), one night. Ferry to Amorgos, five nights. Fly to Mykonos (to see a different island and avoid super long ferry ride back to Athens), two nights. The morning we left Mykonos we flew directly to Athens and were already at the airport for our late morning departures back to the US. All this information feeds directly into…
Rule #3 – What is your remaining budget?
Answering this question likely determines the rest of your hotel bookings and excursions.
Rule #4 – What do you want to do and where should you stay to facilitate that?
This is where more digging into the research ahead of time will get you the most bang for your buck. Before making your bookings consider…
- Ground Transportation – How far is it from the airport, port or train station to your hotel and how will you get there? How will you get to and from your hotel to the sites? Can you walk? Book according to location, time and what you want to see.
- Hotel Bookings – What type of hotel suits your style and budget? Will the hotel stay include any meals, transfers or other perks?
- Sightseeing – What are you interested in seeing? How might the weather change your plan? Should you book tickets online in advance? How much do you need to budget? What days and times are the sites open when you’ll be there? This is often very important and informs how you will design your itinerary.
- Meals – How much do you need to budget for food? Are any meals included?
Rule #5 – Do you need to build down time into your itinerary?
Once you’ve purchased airfare, any other transportation tickets, made hotel bookings, and booked admission for excursions you should have a great picture of the logistics of your trip. Now, pat yourself on the back because you’ve just done a ton of work! You’ll be handsomely rewarded with a great trip.
[HOT TIP: I’d like you to know that all our plans went off without a hitch! The lesson is, plan well in advance, and barring any uncontrollable circumstances, your plans will likely go as expected.]
Here’s our itinerary for 10 days in Greece. I hope that they will be 10 of the best days of your life this year, as they were mine. World traveler tested. World traveler approved.
2 NIGHTS IN ATHENS
Before we get to the good stuff, you’ll want to learn a few useful Greek words and phrases. I didn’t learn any of these words until I got to Greece but practice makes perfect. Now would also be the time to brush up on Greek mythology.
YA-ssas – Hello
YA-mas – “To Good Health” the Greek way of saying “Cheers!”
EF-har-ees-toe – Thank You
PA-ra-ka-lo – You’re Welcome
With only two full days in this awesome city, one being our day of arrival, it was just enough time to take in some extraordinary sites. Because I was traveling with a friend I knew we’d have fun no matter what, but a little advanced research and planning helped us to have the most fun ever!
My Greek aunt recommended the Divani Palace Acropolis Hotel and it was the perfect choice. It’s a great value and the location, just off the Dionysiou Areopagitu, the longest street in Athens at the base of the Acropolis, can’t be beat. It’s also a short walk to enter the pedestrian only streets of the Plaka, the oldest section of Athens. Location was key because we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go.
After a late morning check in at the hotel, a bite to eat in the lobby bar/restaurant and a wee rest (the jet lag will threaten to ruin your first few days but don’t let it!) we headed out to explore the Plaka. The Plaka is the original Athens. Most of the streets are open only to pedestrians making it an ideal spot to meander. The two main streets, Kydathineon and Adrianou, intersect at what is generally considered the center of the neighborhood. I found Matt Barrett’s online guide very informative in my research phase.
The great thing about wandering with no specific agenda is that you can let your senses be your guide. At the end of one street we saw an illuminated arch and decided to check it out. Turned out to be the Arch of Hadrian, named as one of the founders of Athens, and directly opposite the Temple of Zeus. These were the first of many ancient and majestic buildings we would behold, forming a picture in our minds of what it must have been like to live in this great city thousands of years ago.
The Plaka is also a great place to shop, with a mix of unique boutiques and souvenir shops selling much of the same stuff – statues of gods and goddesses, cheap little dresses trimmed in the Greek key design, shoes and silver jewelry. In particular, Greece is a good place to buy gold jewelry, leather sandals and olive wood. Our favorite place for leather sandals was “CT” standing for Christonia a combination of the first names of the owner’s daughters, Christiana and Antonia.
When your Greek aunt, married to your Italian uncle, mention Diogenes as their favorite restaurant in the Plaka, you take note. We ended our first evening with a fabulous Greek dinner at Diogenes, sitting outside soaking in the intoxicating atmosphere at Lysikratous Square. And my uncle was right; the stuffed grapes leaves were the best we’ve ever had.
[HOT TIP: Just outside the restaurant is one of the noteworthy ancient sites within the Plaka, the Choragic Monument of Lusikrates built in 335BC. Check out the frieze depicting scenes from the life of Dionysus.]
We gladly skipped the expensive hotel American buffet breakfast in favor of heading out to grabbing something on Makrygianni Street, a few blocks from the hotel and well-known in the area. We were up and out early because we wanted to get to the Acropolis early for two reasons – beat the crowds and beat the heat. You don’t need to get tickets in advance, just queue up at the window at the base of the hill, buy and enter. General admission when we were there was €20 and we stayed about three hours.
The Acropolis is not a building. The word refers to a citadel built on a hill. Arguably the most famous of the buildings is the Parthenon, but the site is big and you’ll want to see all of it. Visiting the Acropolis is nothing short of spectacular. You don’t need me to tell you that! We had a self-guided experience and enough of the displays are written in English that you can learn as you go on your own.
[HOT TIP: Cool off with a lemonade after exiting, then head to the Museum of the Acropolis to further explore life in ancient Greece in air-conditioned comfort.]
Opened in 2009, the museum is expertly laid out, highly accessible and easily self-guided. The main entrance is on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street and general admission was only €5. Start at the bottom and work your way around to the top, where you can view a short film that explains the Parthenon then and now. All that remains of the artifacts from the site are either displayed here, in Athens, or having been stolen in the late 19th century by Lord Elgin and presently refuse to be returned, can be seen in the British Museum. If I were Greek I wouldn’t be happy about it either.
Having worked up an appetite we walked a short block back to Makrygianni Street, where our day began, to have lunch at God’s Restaurant, which I learned about from Matt Barrett’s blog. There are many restaurants in the area, and many good ones at that. From our approach on the street to the friendly, flirty service, to the food, it was pure pleasure of the gods, if not The God.
After our leisurely lunch we were ready to hit the streets again, taking more of the historical sites in the Plaka. We wanted to see the Roman Agora and a short list of other historic monuments like the Tower of Winds, Doorway of the Medrese and Mosque of Mehmet the Conquerer.
We also wanted to explore Anafiotika, the small neighborhood of houses built on the slopes of the Acropolis. Basically if you walk up hill towards the Acropolis you’ll get there. We found Klepsidra Café (9 Thrasivoulou Street) with outdoor seating and enjoyed our first taste of kapoi, a tasty Greek white wine. Peruse the book store on the corner before moving along.
Don’t overthink your every move when you are out and about in the Plaka. While wandering around we chose a restaurant with a rooftop deck and decided to head up to check out the view. There were mostly locals, so we figured that was a good sign. We ordered a bottle of wine, enjoyed the sunset and ordered some food when we got hungry. When we were ready to move on we had to hunt down the waiter for the check, which was a trend in all of Greece for us.
By now our jet lag was working in our favor with seemingly endless energy at 11pm. On our way back to the hotel we heard live music at yet another Taverna with outdoor seating and went in for dessert. What better way to end our first full day in Greece!
[HOT TIP: If you’re getting the impression that we did a lot of eating and drinking in Greece, you’d be right! The food is fabulous and decidedly healthy. Our favorite beer is Alpha, white wine is kapoi. Despite what you might think, lamb and baklava, which you might find on menus at many American Greek restaurants are not popular in Greece. Pork is popular in Greece and baklava is Turkish, although there are several Greek desserts made with phyllo, which I highly recommend!]
There was just enough time to get breakfast at another place on, yes, Makrygianni Street, before catching our short flight to Santorini, one of the most famous of all the Greek Islands. This really served as a stop-over for us on our way to Amorgos, another of the islands in the Cyclades which can only be reached by ferry. The ferry ride from Santorini is half what it is from Athens.
[NEXT STOP | SANTORINI]
[MOVE AHEAD TO | AMORGOS]
[MOVE AHEAD TO | MYKONOS]